* Media leaks prevent nomination of five candidates to new
* Limited pool of qualified candidates for positions
* Critics say candidates too close to nuclear industry and
By Tetsushi Kajimoto
TOKYO, July 20 Japan's government suffered a
fresh setback on Friday in its efforts to restore trust in
nuclear power, shattered by the Fukushima crisis, when media
leaks forced it to delay nominating candidates for a new atomic
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has approved restarts of two
reactors shut down for safety checks to avoid a potentially
crippling summer power crunch -- all 50 reactors in operation in
Japan had been taken off line. Now he faces growing pressure
from anti-nuclear protests and deepening public distrust of
power utilities and government bureaucrats.
The delay in appointments to the new regulatory commission,
to be launched in September, comes days after the government
drew fire over its handling of public hearings on energy policy.
It also follows an anti-nuclear rally which drew more than
100,000 demonstrators on Monday.
The nomination of five candidates was called off after
several newspapers reported the names of the candidates,
prompting lawmakers to seek government clarification. The
nominees must be approved by parliament.
In principle, lawmakers refuse to consider nominations to
key posts if they have been leaked to the media, forcing the
delay in presenting the slate to parliament. It was unclear
whether the nominations would go ahead, with some media saying
an exception to the "no leak" rule was possible, given the
limited pool of qualified candidates.
Newspapers reported on Friday that the government had picked
Shunichi Tanaka, 67, an expert in radiation physics and a former
deputy head of the Cabinet Office's Atomic Energy Commission, to
head the new safety regulator.
The government hopes that the new safety body will instil
more confidence than the two current regulatory bodies, both
heavily criticised for their cosy ties with the power industry.
Experts say the safety commission's credibility will hinge
on its members, but finding people with the necessary expertise
who are not clearly linked to either the nuclear industry or the
opposing camp is difficult.
Tanaka drew mixed reviews from anti-nuclear groups.
Critics said he represented Japan's "nuclear village" -- a
powerful nexus of politicians, utilities and regulators that
experts say was a major factor in the failure to avert the
Fukushima crisis triggered by the huge earthquake and tsunami in
"I was surprised," opposition lawmaker Tomoko Abe, who leads
a nonpartisan group seeking to ditch atomic power, told Reuters.
"Tanaka was serving for the Atomic Energy Commission and its
role in the state nuclear management has been called into
question ... I'm not questioning his personal ability, but the
fact that he comes from the 'nuclear village'," Abe said, citing
Tanaka's efforts in decontamination after last year's disaster.
Kazue Suzuki, nuclear campaigner at Greenpeace Japan, said
appointing representatives of the "nuclear village" would
undermine the original aim of separating the regulatory body
from one promoting nuclear energy.
However, Hideyuki Ban, secretary-general of Citizens'
Nuclear Information Center, offered a more positive take,
noting how after the Fukushima disaster Tanaka spoke of the need
to reflect on the way nuclear power had been promoted.
"He is not someone who wants to promote nuclear power at any
cost," Ban said. "We can be somewhat positive, but we cannot
have great hopes."
(Additional reporting by Linda Sieg; Editing by Tomasz Janowski
and Ron Popeski)